30 Sept 2022

Derry family’s heartfelt tribute to Altnagelvin staff for saving premature twin daughters’ lives

A Derry dad whose twin daughters were born seven weeks early and with a potentially fatal medical condition has paid tribute the staff at Altnagelvin’s Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit for saving their lives. Saorliath and Saoirse McLaughlin’s mum Michelle McLaughlin was just 28 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors discovered she had a rare complication that can affect identical twins in the womb. “Because the girls are identical they shared the same placenta and they had developed Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome,” explained their dad, Bob McLaughlin. “It meant that Saorliath was getting all the goodness and blood from the placenta and Saoirse was hardly getting any. “It usually happens at around 14 weeks into a pregnancy and at that stage doctors can treat it but at 28 weeks it was far too late. “Michelle was being scanned every week and Saoirse had nearly stopped growing.” Doctors informed the couple Michelle would be getting weekly scans and they were told to prepare for the fact their daughters might have to be delivered early. But just before the 33 rd week of her pregnancy Michelle started to feel unwell and her midwife advised her to go to Altnagelvin’s Antenatal Unit to check everything was ok. A scan revealed that the fluid in Saoirse’s amniotic sac had almost completely drained away, leaving her at risk of infection. The McLaughlins were told their babies would be delivered in just two days- seven weeks before their due date. “The consultant said if there’s two beds in the Neo Natal Intensive Care then they will be kept here, if there’s no beds here they might be sent to Belfast and if there’s no beds in Belfast then its Scotland,” Bob recalled. Michelle spent a very anxious two nights in hospital, where the first time parents were visited by a doctor from Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU) who told them what they could expect when their babies were born. On January 29, 2016 Michelle was given an emergency caesarean and baby Saorliath was welcomed into the world at 9.49am, followed by her sister Saoirse just one minute later. Saorliath weighed just four and half pounds but her little sister was even smaller at just two and half pounds and measuring the length of her father’s hand. “The doctors had told us the twins might not cry after they were born because it was a caesarean and they wouldn’t have had the trauma of a natural birth, but Saorliath came out crying,” Bob SAID . “Saoirse didn’t make any noise but we could see the Dr Armstrong working on her and a then we heard this noise like a cat crying. “I remember Dr Armstrong standing about 15 feet away and he had Saoirse wrapped in a towel and he was trying to hold her up so we could see her, but she was just so tiny that I couldn’t really make her out.”   Care   The twins remained under the care of Dr Damian Armstrong for the next two years and Bob said the Paediatric Consultant went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure his daughters got the highest possible standard of care. Although the twins had been successfully delivered, a long road to health lay ahead as they were suffering from additional complications brought about by the Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. An hour and half after their daughters were born Bob and Michelle got to meet them properly for the first time in the NNICU. Heroes “I remember seeing the sign for Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit and I just started to feel sick,” Bob recalled. “It all kicked in what was going on.” Because of the Twin to Twin Syndrome Saorlaith had too much blood in her system and Saoirse did not have enough. The couple were asked to sign a consent form straight away so doctors could perform a life-saving blood transfusion on Saoirse. Thankfully, the excess blood in Saorlaith’s system was able to be broken down using a blue light treatment, which is commonly used to treat jaundice in new borns. Meanwhile Bob and Michelle were plunged into taking care of two tiny and very sick babies. “The nurses taught us everything,” Bob admitted. “The first nappy, the first feed, the first bath, the importance of skin to skin contact, what babies like and what they don’t. “The nurses really are the unsung heroes of the ward. They are there 24/7. “It’s a real eye opener. “Sitting there too you have a lot of time to think and you realise what is important in life, stuff that would have bothered me the day before they were born suddenly didn’t bother me anymore. “The nurses are there to help everyone from every walk of life, they aren’t picking and choosing who they help. “We met so many great families and we all supported each other. And just three and half weeks later baby Saorlaith was well enough to be taken home, three weeks shy of her due date,   Humble   However, it was a bittersweet moment for the couple as baby Saoirse had to stay in hospital. “The Sister and Ward Manager said they were happy for Saorlaith to stay but they explained that she was a healthy baby and that the chances of her picking up an infection could actually be higher in hospital than at home,” said Bob. Three and a half weeks later baby Saoirse was strong enough to go home too and the young family were finally able to spend the night under the same roof for the first time. The girls remained under the care of Dr Armstrong for the next two years and despite being two months premature neither of them has suffered from any lasting health difficulties. “Saoirse had fluid in her ear and she had to see an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and she also had a very serious milk allergy so she had to see a dietician for that,” said Bob. “But thankfully she is fine now. “Saorlaith also had a suspected bleed on the brain but thankfully there were no lasting problems from that. “Dr Armstrong had specialists checking them over from head to toe making sure everything was ok. “People knock the NHS, they might have had their own experiences, but the NHS saved our two babies’ lives. “When I think about them carrying out a blood transfusion on a two and a half pound baby I am just gobsmacked. “And the staff are so humble, they are almost embarrassed when you thank them.” Saorlaith and Saoirse are now two and a half years old and are starting play school at Sure Start Edenballymore in September. “It’s just unbelievable when you look at them now,” said Bob. “They have been going to Sure Start since about a week after they got out of hospital and there are babies there that were born at the same time as them and you can see how well they have caught up.” For the last two years Bob and Michelle have been fundraising for the NNICU through an annual sponsored walk, which has raised £15,000 to date.   Fundraiser   This year family friend Michael Kelly has offered to run a further fundraising event at The Tattoo Lounge in Rathmor Business Park. “It will cost £35 a tattoo and all proceeds will be going to NNICU,” Bob explained. “He does a charity day every year and he has done it for autism charities and mental health charities, but this year he decided to do it for the NNICI for our girls and it means a lot to us. “It’s a fun event and I’ll be getting a tattoo myself. Well, I’ll actually be getting two because it is for the twins.” Bob and Michelle will also be holding their annual charity walk for NNICU on Saturday November 11. “We want to raise money but we also want to raise awareness about the work that goes on at the NNICU,” he added. “We hadn’t a clue until it happened to us.” The NNICU fundraiser will take place at the Tattoo Lounge in Rathmor Business Park on Saturday September 8. There will also be a live music event in the Delacroix Bar that night with five local rock bands and the Exile RC Bikers. Tickets cost £5 and doors will open at 8pm.    

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